By Edward Kliszus

NEW YORK – The American Symphony Orchestra performs Dvořák’s Requiem in Carnegie Hall.

Maestro Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra brought another rarely performed musical masterpiece to a prestigious New York concert hall tonight.

Maestro Leon Botstein. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Maestro Leon Botstein. Photo by Edward Kliszus

One might ask why Dvořák’s Requiem and not the ‘platinum record’ winners by Mozart, Duruflé, Brahms, or Fauré. Read on.

Dvořák’s marvelous Requiem has joined Botstein’s collection of the visionary repertoire he meticulously curates for music lovers. You may recall Botstein’s recent, fantastic artistic exploits into Händel’s Judas Maccabaeus, Exodus: Jewish Composers in Exile, and composers from the Roaring 20s like George Antheil, Ruth Crawford, and Florence Price.

A full house at Carnegie Hall was soon enthralled with Dvořák’s marvelous Requiem performed by superb vocal soloists, the ASO, and the renowned Bard Festival Chorale. As the audience gathered, readers dove into the splendid, insightful commentary and analysis by Botstein and composer Michael Beckerman, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music at New York University. The ASO program booklets provided both excellent written insights and authoritative text translations.

I’m secretly hoping Botstein brings forth the requiems of François-Joseph Gossec, Jan Dismas Zelenka, or Teodulo Mabellini.

Here are a few features of Dvořák’s choral masterpiece.

A late 19th-century work, some sentimentally argue that the Requiem expresses the composer’s personal experiences, including the deaths of his sister-in-law and his friend and mentor, Antonín Liehmann. However, this work, which emanated from a commission for a Birmingham, England, music festival, is more likely the product of intellectual and philosophical prowess from a composer at the height of his powers. It avoids glib pretension, drama, or pathos while expressing a discernable sense of intrepid anguish. Largely absent of desolate, heartrending nuances, one wonders whether Dvořák’s musical portrayals evoke more sorrow than dread. Perhaps fear of death is displaced by the ultimate tragedy of bidding farewell to life, art, nature, and loved ones.

Woven among Dvořák’s expressions of text, rich harmonies, lush orchestration, and poignant melodies is the mystery and beauty of Dvořák’s four-note theme (F–F#–E– F), which emerges throughout the work. Some suggest the motif represents basic human emotions of love, despair, hope, and comfort.

However, with its rhythmical opacity, this melancholy semitone progression may more broadly evoke the human quest for answers for which Charles Ives musically yearns in his The Unanswered Question.

The opening ‘Requiem aeternam‘ introduces the four-note motif that reappears more than 200 times throughout the work, brilliantly creating a sense of unity. The motif is poignantly restated in the final ‘Agnus Dei.’

One might argue that Dvořák’s Requiem is infrequently performed due to its demanding vocal and instrumental requirements. The technical challenges were apparent as the orchestra, soloists, and Chorale masterfully performed the work with intent, power, and aplomb.

While the audience did not applaud between segments, mass expressions of admiration, joy, and reverence abounded. While notable verbal affirmations proliferated between each section, many breathed deeply in silence, gently bowed their heads, or closed their eyes as they listened. There were gentle aural articulations of appreciation through soft ‘ahs,’ ‘wows,’ and ‘mms’ to convey emotional satisfaction and agreement. Many listeners maintained intense eye contact with the performers. These subtle ways demonstrated recognition and respect for the artists and music without disrupting the earnestness of the ethereal themes.

L-R Leah Hawkins, Soprano (photo by Arielle Doneson), Lindsay Ammann, Mezzo-Soprano (courtesy, Joshua Blue, Tenor (courtesy, Stefan Egerstrom, Bass (courtesy

L-R Leah Hawkins, Soprano (photo by Arielle Doneson), Lindsay Ammann, Mezzo-Soprano (courtesy, Joshua Blue, Tenor (courtesy, Stefan Egerstrom, Bass (courtesy

Tonight was a superb concert in a venue with the finest acoustics, seating, and stage. The Chorale was set in back of the orchestra while soloists sang directly in front of the Chorale. It worked beautifully.

Music lovers are encouraged to follow Maestro Botstein, the ASO, the Bard Festival Chorale, and tonight’s world-class vocal soloists. See their calendars for not only superb performances but also to experience some of the most interesting musical gems from history’s finest composers.

The American Symphony Orchestra performs Dvořák’s Requiem in Carnegie Hall

Antonín Dvořák: Requiem, Op. 89 (1890)

Leon Botstein, Conductor
James Bagwell, Choral Director
The Bard Festival Chorale

Leah Hawkins, Soprano
Lindsay Ammann, Mezzo-Soprano
Joshua Blue, Tenor
Stefan Egerstrom, Bass

American Symphony Orchestra

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Readers may also enjoy our reviews of  The American Symphony Orchestra and Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, Peter & the Wolf by Works & ProcessTranscendent Triumph and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2Musica Sacra at Carnegie HallThe Orchestra Now at Symphony Space, and The New Jersey Ballet at the Mayo Arts Center.